Jessica Goodfellow
Jul 23, 2020

As TikTok works on US troubles, it now faces a ban in Pakistan

Embattled video-sharing app has been issued a final warning by the Pakistan government, as it explores several moves to appease concerns in the US.

Credit: Unsplash
Credit: Unsplash

Pakistan's telecommunications regulator has issued a final notice to TikTok after receiving complaints about "immoral, obscene and vulgar content" present on the app.

The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) said Monday (July 20) that it was taking action on social-media apps over their "extremely negative effects on the society in general and youth in particular".

As well as giving ByteDance-owned TikTok a final notice, it said it had decided to "immediately block" Singapore-headquartered Bigo over the same concerns.

The PTA said it had earlier issued notices to Bigo and TikTok, asking them to moderate the content on their platforms "within legal and moral limits, in accordance with the laws of the country".

But the social-media companies' response to the request "has not been satisfactory", it said.

"Therefore, in exercise of its powers under PECA, PTA has decided to immediately block Bigo and issue final warning to TikTok to put in place a comprehensive mechanism to control obscenity, vulgarity and immorality through its social-media application," it said in a statement.

A TikTok spokesperson told Campaign Asia-Pacific that the company had removed 3,728,162 violating user videos from Pakistan between July 1 to December 31, 2019. The spokesperson said that of the total videos removed, 89.4% were taken down before these videos received any views, and that the app's moderation system proactively caught and removed 98.2% of videos before a user reported them.

"At TikTok, maintaining a safe and positive in-app environment is our top priority. We deploy a combination of technologies, and moderation strategies to detect and review problematic content that violates our terms of use and comprehensive Community Guidelines, and implement appropriate penalties including removing videos and banning accounts. In addition, we offer users a number of controls, tools and privacy settings including easy reporting mechanisms that enables users and law enforcement to report any inappropriate content," the spokesperson said.

"We are committed to further strengthening our safeguards to ensure the safety of our users, while increasing our dialogue with the authorities to explain our policies and demonstrate our dedication to user security," they added.

The PTA has sweeping powers to block or remove content it deems necessary under the The Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), a controversial cyber-security law passed in 2016. The PTA has blocked a total of 830,000 websites since the law was enacted, according to a report by Pakistan Today.

The Pakistan government's warning to TikTok comes weeks after the app was banned in India, along with Bigo and 57 other mostly Chinese-owned apps. The Indian government stated that it banned TikTok over security risks related to India's sovereignty.

Earlier this month, the video app also retreated from Hong Kong following the passage of China's broad new national security law, which brings the special administrative region more in line with China's media rules. Instead, ByteDance will replace TikTok with the domestic version of the app, Douyin, in Hong Kong.

In parallel, US politicans have been signalling their ambition to ban the app in their country, over concerns that it was being used as a surveillance tool by the Beijing government. The Australian government is also investigating the platform.

ByteDance is exploring several options to address scrutiny over its relationship with the Chinese government, including moving TikTok's international headquarters outside China. It was exploring London as a possible location, but negotiations with the UK government recently broke down over geopolitical tensions, the Guardian reported over the weekend.

The US is looking like a likely option after ByteDance revealed plans to hire a further 10,000 people in the country over the next three years—after already tripling the number of its US employees so far in 2020—to show its commitment to supporting the economy. 

"These are good-paying jobs that will help us continue to build a fun and safe experience and protect our community's privacy," the TikTok spokesperson told Campaign.

It is also rumoured to be exploring the option of selling a majority stake of TikTok to a group of its existing US investors. This is one of the routes being floated as part of TikTok's plans to change its corporate structure.

TikTok said it "does not comment on rumors or speculation".

"We are very confident in the long-term success of TikTok and will make our plans public when we have something to announce," the TikTok spokesperson said.

This story was updated with TikTok's comments.

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